Fifty Key Classical Authors

By Alison Sharrock; Rhiannon Ash | Go to book overview

SENECA THE YOUNGER

Seneca has provoked extreme reactions in ancient and modern critics. Vespasian's professor of rhetoric, Quintilian, squirms uncomfortably, postponing for as long as possible his discussion of Seneca because, he claims, people wrongly thought that he hated the man. This, presumably, wouldn't have mattered if Quintilian had been ready to contradict this opinion by complimenting Seneca unreservedly, but this he cannot do. Despite some nice opening remarks, Quintilian goes for the kill: 'his style is mostly corrupt and extremely dangerous, since it overflows with attractive vices' (Training in Oratory 10.1.129). Moreover, Quintilian proposes that Seneca's greatest fans are boys rather than learned men, thereby implying that Seneca's style is flashy and shallow.

This backlash against Seneca during the self-consciously austere era of the emperor Vespasian is understandable. His style was, after all, inextricably bound up with Nero's flamboyant court. Nor was Quintilian Seneca's only ancient critic. Aulus Gellius disapproves of his 'common and vulgar' language (Attic Nights 12.2.1), while Fronto attacks him using an eloquent metaphor:

There certainly are some skilful and weighty sayings in his books. Yet little pieces of silver plate are from time to time found in sewers. Should we therefore undertake to clean out the sewers?

(De Orationibus 3)

Yet tastes change or, more precisely, move in cycles. Seneca became more popular among Christian authors, who appreciated the moralising element of his work. So Minucius Felix in the third century AD wrote the Octavius, a dialogue between a pagan, Caecilius Natalis, and a Christian, Octavius; both style and content reveal debts to Seneca. There is also the anonymous author of the spurious Correspondence between Seneca and St Paul, a collection of letters intended partly to substantiate the belief that the two men were friends. 1 Petrarch accepted the correspondence as genuine, but Erasmus, who edited Seneca's works, rejected the letters.

Of course, Seneca's sententious style proved the perfect hunting ground for those who compiled anthologies of maxims, and we have several such collections (Manita, Senecae Proverbia). How Seneca himself would have reacted is open to speculation. He once advised Lucilius:

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Fifty Key Classical Authors
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Contents viii
  • Preface x
  • Introduction xi
  • Notes xxi
  • In the Beginning 1
  • Homer 3
  • Notes 11
  • Further Reading 12
  • Athenian Hegemony 33
  • Aeschylus 35
  • Notes 42
  • Notes 49
  • Further Reading 50
  • Notes 56
  • Notes 64
  • Further Reading 65
  • Thucydides 74
  • Fourth Century 93
  • Lysias 95
  • Xenophon 103
  • Further Reading 118
  • Notes 127
  • Hellenistic 137
  • Menander 139
  • Notes 144
  • Further Reading 168
  • Early Roman 169
  • Ennius 171
  • Notes 184
  • Further Reading 185
  • Late Republican 201
  • Cicero 203
  • Notes 212
  • Notes 220
  • Catullus 228
  • Augustan 243
  • Virgil 245
  • Notes 268
  • Further Reading 276
  • Notes 290
  • Further Reading 291
  • Notes 295
  • Further Reading 296
  • Neronian and Flavian 297
  • Seneca the Younger 299
  • Notes 308
  • Petronius 310
  • Notes 321
  • Further Reading 322
  • Notes 328
  • Further Reading 329
  • Notes 333
  • Trajan and Hadrian 343
  • Plutarch 345
  • Further Reading 350
  • Further Reading 365
  • Further Reading 370
  • Notes 375
  • (Not) the End 377
  • Lucian 379
  • Notes 392
  • Timeline 407
  • Index 413
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